Last week I spoke at Meet The Pros and, not surprisingly, my presentation was titled Fun with code. When I had volunteered to speak way back when, I envisioned myself talking about a bunch of code stuff and making it really interesting and fun. If you’re a regular reader of the Fun with code series here, you probably don’t remember any of it being terribly interesting or fun. It may be really helpful and useful, but it’s certainly too specialized to be a crowd-pleaser. As I was writing my presentation notes, I realized that I needed to speak to the students as a group – not just the few that may be interested in code – and I needed to make it relevant to them. I thought it would be nice to say something that I hadn’t heard in my years of attending Meet The Pros, but perhaps wished I had.
So I did both. Half-way through my talk, I wrapped up a brief summary of the code that makes the Maha Music Festival countdown timer work and look awesome and moved on to something more relevant about what they might expect when they get out into the world. At this point everything changed; I stopped talking about design and code, and began speaking to the audience. I started by getting pretty candid about myself, my life, and my career. I’ve summarized the second half of my talk below, and I believe that there’s a message in it not only for students, but for anybody who wants to listen.
So, why on earth would a design graduate even bother teaching himself code in the first place? Well, like many students, when I graduated I was a pretty mediocre designer who thought quite a bit more of my skills than I could actually back up. Don’t be fooled; there are a handful of great designers around today, but everybody else files right into where I was – and probably still am – when it comes to design: just OK. I had a small grasp on code but nothing much more.
I graduated in 2009. If anybody remembers what the job market was like back then, you’ll understand why a mediocre designer has to find some way of standing out. I worked extremely hard to learn all of the things I know today, and it paid off – eventually. Recession or not, look around you right now. There are hundreds of design students who will be graduating this year alone. There are not that many job opportunities around here for design, and of the ones that are available, they probably aren’t what you’re thinking. And that’s just one of the factors working against you. The point I really want to drive home today is that in life there are a whole bunch of external factors that are going to do everything they can to keep you from fulfilling your ideal life plan.
All of you have at some point thought out in your head what you want your life to look like. Probably not in any complex fashion, but however briefly, you’ve thought of something like this:
- Have Great Relationship
- Get Sweet Job
- Other Awesome Stuff
The real problem here is that life is not ideal, and life doesn’t care at all about your little plan. The list above is certainly not how it turned out for me. Along the way I had what I would consider some pretty bad stuff happen to me and I got to a point where I was feeling sorry for myself and I was angry at everything. It seemed like for every good thing that happened to me I was handed something ten times worse. My behavior began to jeopardize everything I had worked so hard to achieve – until I realized something.
In life, there isn’t much you can control.
In fact, the only thing you can really depend on having any control of is yourself. Things are going to happen to you, some of those things will be bad. Everything you get in life can be taken away from you somehow. There are companies in this town who will hire you in a hurry, give you a great job for a while, then lay you off when they lose a client. This is a horrible and reprehensible practice, but it happens all the time. You’ll have relationships that will fail, you’ll have friends who will betray you, you’ll have bosses who oppress you, and life will suck sometimes. But you already know that – or at least, you should.
There is something that you may not know. Despite all of this, all of you are very fortunate. Eventually, if you work super hard, you’ll get to work in an industry that is creative. Eventually you’ll get to come into work every day and do something that you love, something that you care about, something that makes a difference. This is something that not everybody gets to do. Revel in that, it is what makes us different, and it gives us a leg up on life.
You have a skill-set that allows you, more than anybody else, to work on your own. If you work super hard and nobody is willing to give you a job, you can still find clients, work as a freelancer, and maybe even start your own business. All you need is a pencil, a piece of paper, and a computer.
The true secret to achieving that final Win on your ideal life plan is being able to have fun with anything. For me, it is fun with code, but for you it could be fun with illustration, fun with copywriting, fun with photoshop, fun with freelance, fun with clients, fun with anything.